Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Delicious!



Author: Ruth Reichl
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 400
Publisher: Random House
First Published: January 2014
First Line: "You should have used fresh ginger!"

Book Description from GoodReadsIn her bestselling memoirs Ruth Reichl has long illuminated the theme of how food defines us, and never more so than in her dazzling fiction debut about sisters, family ties, and a young woman who must finally let go of guilt and grief to embrace her own true gifts.

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her California home to take a job at Delicious, the most iconic food magazine in New York and, thus, the world. When the publication is summarily shut down, the colorful staff, who have become an extended family for Billie, must pick up their lives and move on. Not Billie, though. She is offered a new job: staying behind in the magazine's deserted downtown mansion offices to uphold the "Delicious Guarantee"-a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries-until further notice. What she doesn't know is that this boring, lonely job will be the portal to a life-changing discovery.

Delicious! carries the reader to the colorful world of downtown New York restaurateurs and artisanal purveyors, and from the lively food shop in Little Italy where Billie works on weekends to a hidden room in the magazine's library where she discovers the letters of Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, who wrote to the legendary chef James Beard during World War II. Lulu's letters lead Billie to a deeper understanding of history (and the history of food), but most important, Lulu's courage in the face of loss inspires Billie to come to terms with her own issues-the panic attacks that occur every time she even thinks about cooking, the truth about the big sister she adored, and her ability to open her heart to love.


My Review: Going into this book, a book about food, I thought that this would be right up my alley.  And it kind of was.  I loved the beautiful descriptions of food strewn throughout the book, how they were incorporated into the storyline and the recipes that were provided. These were my favourite things about this debut fictional novel for Reichl which unfortunately also had a little too much going on and shallow, clichéd characters.

I understand that Ruth was the Editor-in-Chief at the former Gourmet magazine so she definitely knows how to entice her fellow foodies with descriptions of food, cooking techniques etc.  Unfortunately it's the storyline and characters that need a little more fine tuning.

There were some very unique secondary characters and I specifically loved Sal and Rosalie who were the most authentic characters in the book. Sammy, while very unique, came off as the clichéd flamboyant, older mentor and the other secondary characters just blended into the melee.

Billie, on the other hand, came off as shallow and a little pathetic if I'm being honest.  Here's this woman who has a unique and highly sought after palate so why wouldn't she use it more to her advantage??  It seemed like a waste.  The family trauma that resulted in Billie's fear and reluctance to cook for people felt forced and not believable that this incident (although tragic) would cause her to fear cooking the rest of her life.   That said, why on earth, with a fear of cooking, would she want to work at a food magazine?  It just didn't make sense to me.

Then there's Billie's Cinderella metamorphosis where she went from dowdy, frump girl to princess with the addition of contacts, a new wardrobe and a haircut.  I'm sorry but it felt hokey.  A few changes and suddenly she's confident and the belle of the ball?  Um no.  Plus when you add in the romance aspect (specifically the 'rose petal' comment) which wreaked of 'fromage' (of the Limburger variety) it was over the top and screamed "Chick Lit" in a book that I thought would be deeper.  No guy, in the history of the world (outside of a cheesy romance novel) has ever uttered that phrase.  Ever.

This book has the right elements (for the most part) - historical mystery, hints of the main character having a tragic past that is slowly revealed, beautiful food descriptions, unique secondary characters - but I don't feel it was well executed.  There was just too much going on in this book.  We have the sweet one-sided letters between young Lulu and James Beard, Billie who is trying to find her way in NYC with her unique palate and mysterious past, WWII ....  With all of these different issues, settings etc I was surprised to find myself losing interest and forcing myself to finish the book.

Overall, this book just wasn't for me.  I was hoping for a grittier mystery and a much more solid main character but if you're a foodie and just want a very fluffy Chick Lit read with smatterings of foodie talk then this could be the book for you.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The House We Grew Up In



Author: Lisa Jewell
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Kindle e-book ARC
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: Sept 2, 2014
First Line: "Tuesday 2nd November 2010 - Hi Jim!"

Book Description from GoodReadsMeet the Bird family. They live in a honey-colored house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together every night. Their father is a sweet gangly man named Colin, who still looks like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish, round-framed glasses. Their mother is a beautiful hippy named Lorelei, who exists entirely in the moment. And she makes every moment sparkle in her children's lives.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass as the children become adults, find new relationships, and develop their own separate lives. Soon it seems as though they've never been a family at all. But then something happens that calls them back to the house they grew up in -- and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

Told in gorgeous, insightful prose that delves deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the captivating story of one family's desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home.


Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: The Bird family lives in a quaint old house nicknamed The Bird House in the Cotswolds where the childhoods of the four Bird children - Megan, Bethan and twins Rory and Rhys - are filled with their annual Easter egg hunts and other childhood memories lead by their eccentric mother Lorelei.  Life is good for the Birds until one fateful day when one instance shatters their idyllic family life and sends them all into a tailspin, each dealing with the devastation in their own way.  Sounds awesome, right?

I adore great character development in a book and The House We Grew Up In was one of the best characterizations of a family in turmoil that I've read in a long time.  The story is told from the viewpoints of Megan, Bethan and their mother Loralei and jumps back and forth to different time frames in the family's life. The members of this family are believably flawed, make poor decisions and their dysfunction quickly begins to show.  

One would think that this focus on their daily lives would get dull quickly but I was absolutely absorbed in the Bird family.  Getting into their inner thoughts helped me to become emotional about their plight.  I experienced feelings of sadness to utter frustration and anger, to incredulity and finally understanding and even sympathy.

When Lorelei's issue was first brought up (I don't want to give it away so I'll keep it vague) I wasn't sure where the author was going with it.  As her behaviour worsened it was very frustrating for me (as well as pragmatic Meg who really connected with) but, at the same time, the author slowly reveals why Lorelei has changed so drastically since her family was torn apart.  It's during this revelation that I began to have a better understanding and even sympathy for the way Lorelei dealt with her pain as well as sympathy for her loved ones who tried desperately to understand and deal with her.

This book admittedly has a lot going on.  From describing how people deal with grief in different ways, looking at mental illness, death and relationship issues between spouses, parents, children and siblings.  It's a veritable melee of relationships and emotion.  But it works and never felt soap opera-ish to me.

This was a wonderful family drama that Jewell tells with insight and sensitivity.  It was absorbing and was hard to put down for any length of time.  Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Other books I have reviewed by Lisa Jewell: Before I Met You

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Belle


Author: Lesley Pearse
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 624
Publisher: Michael Joseph
First Published: February 2011
First Lines: "London, 1910 - You must be a whore. You live in a brothel!"

Book Description from GoodReadsLondon 1910 -- Fifteen year-old Belle has lived in a brothel in Seven Dials all her life, with no understanding of what happens in the rooms upstairs. But her innocence is shattered when she witnesses the murder of one of the girls and, subsequently snatched from the streets by the killer, she is sold into prostitution in Paris.

No longer mistress of her own fate, Belle is blown across the globe to sensuous New Orleans where she comes of age and learns to enjoy life as a courtesan. Yet thoughts of home - and the knowledge her status as golden girl cannot last - compel her to break out of her gilded cage.

But Belle finds escaping tougher than she imagined, for her life is threatened by desperate men who crave her beauty and attention. Armed only with resourcefulness and spirit, she has a long and dangerous journey ahead of her.

Will courage be enough to sustain her? Can she make it back to her family and friends and find her chance at true happiness?


My ReviewI had high hopes for this book based on the description on the book jacket and a recommendation from a library customer.  Belle is a historical fiction read set in England and the US in the early 1900's that delves into the seedy underbelly of prostitution, human trafficking and the life of a teen girl who gets caught up in it.  I was itching for a good, intense historical saga and I figured this was it.  And it almost was. Almost.

This was a good read but I wouldn't say it was great.  It kept my interest throughout but there were a couple of things that stopped me from giving this book a higher rating.  First of all, while the storyline (which, at times, was predictable) kept my interest the writing itself was weak and overly simplistic with the dialogue between the characters being bland and simple.

While this book dealt with serious issues I still consider this a light historical fiction read.  I say light because it wasn't as dark, gritty or emotional a read as I was expecting considering the dark subject matter (and pretty graphic sexual scenes).  I had a hard time believing that Belle could endure the physical and emotional abuse she suffered only to almost embrace her new profession and come out of the whole affair fairly unscathed.  This left her as a very flat and unconvincing main character.  I suppose one could argue that she was suddenly empowered, resilient and made the best out of a horrible situation but it just didn't ring true for me.

Secondly, the characters were okay but could have been improved with better dialogue and some more back stories on them.  Belle herself wasn't a strong main character and often frustrated me with her decisions - especially when she eagerly divulged her past to people she barely knew time after time ... and paid the price each time.  I realize she's only fifteen at the beginning of the book but with the life experiences she has thrust at her she still comes off as overly naïve and juvenile.  The other characters didn't undergo much development but were colourful enough to make the storyline interesting.

That's not to say that this book wasn't interesting with all of its twists and turns.  And boy were there a lot of twists which made me want to see how Belle's life would turn out.  I do think that the story could have been whittled down a hundred pages or so and that would have helped the overall flow of the book.

Overall, this was a good light read for historical fiction buffs.  For fans of this book the second book in the series, The Promise, continues to follow Belle's life.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mexican Pasta Salad

This past weekend we celebrated my daughter, 'Missy Moo's' 11th birthday.  I know right?!  My baby is ELEVEN?!?  Not possible.  I could have sworn she was a pig-tailed 4 year old just last year!  Now she's a wonderful girl who, while fairly quiet to non-family members, is a spunky gal who can hold her own in the attitude department (just like her dear old 'ma, apparently) and I adore spending time with her.

In order to celebrate, we had a gaggle of extended family over.  When I asked my girl what she wanted for her birthday supper she excitedly said 'TACOS!!!'.

Tacos?

I will admit that I wasn't jumping for joy at the thought of serving up tacos. But as it was Missy Moo's call we went with it and actually tacos is a meal that works well with a group of 13 people (six of which were 5-14 years of age).  We had a taco bar set up in the kitchen complete with three pounds of taco meat in the slow cooker (cooked earlier in the day) and loads of condiments from sour cream to green chilies, black olives, salsa, corn, black beans and two kinds of cheese ...  Ya, it was an epic taco bar.  El Epico.

But me being me I couldn't 'just' serve tacos - I had to have a couple of side dishes to round off the meal.  Missy Moo disagreed (since she typically isn't a fan of salads, sides or otherwise).  Tacos were enough for her but I pulled rank on this one.  Listen Missy Moo, I love you more than chocolate, reading and poutine, you know I do.  But I housed you for nine months and handled your three hour 'OMG intensely' painful drug-free labour from hell with the panache of a woman in the worst PMS mood swings you can believe (just ask Nanny and Dad) so I think that, while we're celebrating your birth, I deserve a salad or two! 

So, along with Caesar salad (ya, not so Mexican but a definite kid pleaser) I decided to make a Mexican pasta salad.  I loved it and I got positive comments from the adults who tried it.  It has a slightly spicy kick to it (depending on how much green chilies you use) and I loved the black beans and corn for the colour as well as various other add-in sundries.  Easy to make ahead of time and totally tasty I will definitely be making this salad again in the future.



8oz rotini pasta, uncooked
1/4 cup sour cream (possibly more - see ** note below)
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice (I large lime, juiced)
2 tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp cumin
2 1/2 tsp taco seasoning
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tsp canned green chilies (or to taste)
1/2 cup canned corn kernels (or fresh, roasted kernels)
1/2 cup black beans, rinsed
1/2 cup black olives, sliced

Garnish:
1/4 cup green onions, sliced
1 cup Mexican shredded cheese (or regular marble cheese)
Fresh lime wedges

In a large saucepan, cook pasta until al dente.  Rinse pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, combine the sour cream, lime juice, seasonings and garlic in a large bowl.  Mix well.

Add the rest of the ingredients (minus the garnishes) into the sour cream mixture.  Rinse the pasta with water and add to the other ingredients.  Stir well.  Refrigerate for at least one hour.  Before serving stir well and top with green onions and shredded cheese (and squeeze a lime wedge over your serving, if desired).

** Note: You may have to add a bit more sour cream if the pasta has absorbed too much of the sauce (this was the case with mine).

Source: Inspired by - http://www.novicehousewife.com/2013/06/16/mexican-pasta-salad/


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Sweetness


Author: Sande Boritz Berger
Genre:  Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC)
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: She Writes Press
First Published: September 23, 2014
First Line: "Like most Friday nights, I wait for Poppa by the parlor window."

Book Description from GoodReadsEarly in The Sweetness, an inquisitive young girl asks her grandmother why she is carrying nothing but a jug of sliced lemons and water when they are forced by the Germans to evacuate their ghetto. "Something sour to remind me of the sweetness," she tells her, setting the theme for what they must remember to survive.

Set during World War II, the novel is the parallel tale of two Jewish girls, cousins, living on separate continents, whose strikingly different lives ultimately converge. Brooklyn-born Mira Kane is the eighteen-year-old daughter of a well-to-do manufacturer of women's knitwear in New York.

Her cousin, eight-year-old Rosha Kaninsky, is the lone survivor of a family in Vilna exterminated by the invading Nazis. But unbeknownst to her American relatives, Rosha did not perish. Desperate to save his only child during a round-up of their ghetto, her father thrusts her into the arms of a Polish Catholic candle maker, who then hides her in a root cellar putting her own family at risk. The headstrong and talented Mira, who dreams of escaping Brooklyn for a career as a fashion designer, finds her ambitions abruptly thwarted when, traumatized at the fate of his European relatives, her father becomes intent on safeguarding his loved ones from threats of a brutal world, and all the family must challenge his unuttered but injurious survivor guilt.

Though the American Kanes endure the experience of the Jews who got out, they reveal how even in the safety of our lives, we are profoundly affected by the dire circumstances of others."

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to She Writes Press and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, specifically books dealing with the Holocaust.  Told using two narratives The Sweetness follows the lives of two cousins during WWII: Rosha, an eight year old girl from the Lithuanian city of Vilnius and her teenage cousin Mira who is an upper middle class teenager living a very different life in New York. 

This was a much lighter look at the Holocaust and overall didn't seem to have the energy or the emotion that I was expecting.  This stems from the fact that it mainly focuses on Mira and her life in the USA as she tries to make her way in the fashion business and deal with her day-to-day family issues in the garment business.  The differences between Rosha and Mira's lives were unquestioningly glaring in contrast.  You could sense Mira and her family's fear for their relatives overseas as well as the cost to her aunt's mental health but ultimately it left me feeling like Mira's life was much more superficial than Rosha's loss and daily fears.

While this book did give the reader a view of the Holocaust through the eyes of a privileged Jewish teenager in the US, I can't say it was as emotional or riveting as I was hoping.  I can see it being popular with people who want a lighter read involving WWII and how the war affected a Jewish family on two different continents.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars


Friday, September 12, 2014

Kit's Law


Author: Donna Morrissey
Genre: Historical Fiction, Canadian
Type: Paperback
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 408
Publisher: Penguin Canada
First Published: 1999
First Line: "The walls inside the church in Haire's Hollow were sparkling clean up to the point where the A-shaped ceiling began.'

Book Description from GoodReadsIt is the Fifties in an isolated outport in Newfoundland. Nothing penetrates this antiquated existence, as television, telephones, cars, even roads, elude the villagers and the only visitors are fog-bound fishermen. Here, outside of Haire’s Hollow, lives 14-year old Kit Pitman with her mentally handicapped mother Josie — both women cared for and protected by the indomitable Lizzie, Kit’s grandmother. The three live a life of some hardship, but much love, punctuated by the change of seasons in the isolated gully where they live.

Then a tragic change in their circumstances brings back an old threat — that Josie be sent to an institution and Kit to an orphanage. Advancing this argument is the Reverend Ropson, who from the pulpit decries Josie as the “Gully Tramp.” Defending the women is Doc Hodgson, who brought Kit into the world and knows the secrets of her birth. An uneasy truce is forged, with the Reverend’s son Sid acting as spy and woodcutter, while village women supply food and gossip. Josie delights in Sid’s visits, and Kit grows to love him.

There is another menace in Haire’s Hollow — the notorious rapist and killer known as Shine. When Shine attacks Kit in a drunken rage, it sets off a chain of events that leads to further violence and a terrible revelation. Kit and Sid must decide which laws of God and man apply in their despairing world and how much misery they can bear.

Kit’s Law is a stunning debut written with the stark rawness of character and landscape of the Rock itself. It evokes the lyrical gifts of E. Annie Proulx, the emotional power of Wally Lamb, and the compelling storytelling of Ann-Marie MacDonald. At its centre is the innocence and determination of Kit herself, a young woman who experiences extremes of pain on the way to redemption. As she says: “It is better to sense nothing at all, to move through the world and glimpse it from a distance, then to split God’s gift in half and live in its underside, with no rays of light dispersing the darkness.”


My Review:  The fact that this book is set in a remote Newfoundland village in the 1950's caught my attention since I'm always on the lookout for new (or at least 'new to me') Canadian authors.  I found Morrissey's writing to be very engaging and lyrical as she vividly describes Newfoundland and its culture, unique dialect and small coastal town feel.

But it was an interesting premise regarding Kit's living situation and that kept me reading.  Kit, Josie and Grandma Lizzie's characters were well thought out and felt very believable.  So believable that there were a few times when I got frustrated with what Kit had to deal with on a daily basis with her mom, Josie.  It was a lot to bear for a teen and I could feel her frustration as well as her strong devotion to her family.

There are a fair number of secondary characters as we see what life is like in the small coastal village of Haire's Hollow.  I only wish the reader got to learn more about these unique characters - some of which, if I'm being honest, were just a tad too clichéd for my tastes.  It would have been great if the 'bad guy' had some redeeming quality or have a look into why the resident 'mean girl' is so mean (she reminded me a lot of the spoiled Nelly Oleson from Little House on the Prairie fame, an image I couldn't shake throughout the book).

There was one scene that had me nail biting/on the edge of my seat but unfortunately I saw the major plot twist from a mile away.  Even after I figured it out I was hoping for a red herring but that unfortunately never happened.  It was still a solid read but I would have loved to have had just one more twist.  After the plot twist was revealed the book felt a little jumbled and out of sorts with the ending being the weakest part of the book.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read with a wonderfully eastern Canadian feel to it.  The characters and location added a truly unique spin to the book.  I look forward to reading more from this author.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

That Summer

Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Local Library
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: June 2014
First Lines: "Someone's left me a house.", said Julia.  "In England."

Book Description from GoodReads2009: When Julia Conley hears that she has inherited a house outside London from an unknown great-aunt, she assumes it’s a joke. She hasn't been back to England since the car crash that killed her mother when she was six, an event she remembers only in her nightmares. But when she arrives at Herne Hill to sort through the house—with the help of her cousin Natasha and sexy antiques dealer Nicholas—bits of memory start coming back. And then she discovers a pre-Raphaelite painting, hidden behind the false back of an old wardrobe, and a window onto the house's shrouded history begins to open...

1849: Imogen Grantham has spent nearly a decade trapped in a loveless marriage to a much older man, Arthur. The one bright spot in her life is her step-daughter, Evie, a high-spirited sixteen year old who is the closest thing to a child Imogen hopes to have. But everything changes when three young painters come to see Arthur's collection of medieval artifacts, including Gavin Thorne, a quiet man with the unsettling ability to read Imogen better than anyone ever has. When Arthur hires Gavin to paint her portrait, none of them can guess what the hands of fate have set in motion. From modern-day England to the early days of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Lauren Willig's That Summer takes readers on an un-put-downable journey through a mysterious old house, a hidden love affair, and one woman’s search for the truth about her past—and herself.

My Review: Have you ever finished reading a book and don't have a firm grasp on how you feel about it? You kind of liked it, but kind of didn't. That's where I stand with this book. 

On the surface this book has a lot of things that I enjoy in a book - a Gothic setting in a rather creepy ancestral home, dual narrative in two eras and historical references.  Sounds great, right?  I was expecting this book to be along the lines of the The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton or The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley.  And while it did have similar settings and time frames That Summer didn't have the substance or character development that the other two authors bring to their books of a similar genre.  There's something missing in this book.  I was a decent read but that's it.

I think the mystery started off strong and I was eager to see what family skeletons Julia would unearth in her new abode.  The addition of some extended family with questionable motives was wonderful but it wasn't used to the full extent I was hoping.  The story kept referring to Aunt Regina knowing all kinds of family lore and secrets but her role was very undeveloped and wasn't used to boost the storyline at all which was a shame because I think she could have brought a depth to the story.

I also didn't feel connections to Julia or Imogen and I know that that affected my feelings towards the book.  In the end, I was hoping for a grittier plot, a more substantial treasure hunt and more interesting characters.  This book felt more like Gothic Mystery Light - a hint of mystery but unfortunately not an edge of your seat kind of read. 

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Monday, September 8, 2014

Roasted Cherry Tomato and Balsamic Pasta

This summer (as in past summers) I could easily be known as the Crazy Cherry Tomato Lady. This spring I bought a small cherry tomato plant at my favourite food store and planted it in my wee 10x15' kitchen garden.  I gave it a third of the space and thought that would be enough.

Apparently I don't learn from experience and my inability to judge space and time is still going strong.  This wee plant grew to over six feet tall and just as wide.  I had to help Brad hack off branches so he could mow the lawn beside my raised garden bed and prune it on the other side so it didn't totally shade my green peppers.  Ya, no one can say this girl can't grow tomatoes!

And that's not all!  Apparently there were a 'few' cherry tomatoes from last year that dropped and seeded themselves so not only did I have the tomato plant that looks like it is on steroids but I had no less than 4 other plants growing in amongst my rhubarb, green peppers and herbs and onions.  Wha!?!  With me being the only tomato loving person in our house I had to take drastic measures.  Ya, I put up a call on Facebook to give these little tomato plants good homes and I managed to pawn off a few of them so others can experience the joy of gargantuan growing.

I joke about it but having 2lbs of cherry tomatoes/week has been awesome!  My mother-in-law, parents and I have been inhaling these sweet beauties all summer.  You know that they're tasty when you pop no less than 15 in your mouth as you drive home from work each day! And now that my plant is starting to wither a bit I'm making the most out of its last crop.  I made this dish a couple of days ago for lunch and it was so good I was talking to myself and giving myself kudos (since the dog wasn't offering up any praise).

This is a super simple, not too time consuming, pasta dish that has a sweetness to it from the roasting of the tomatoes and my beloved balsamic.  The touch of fresh rosemary and fresh Parmesan top it off perfectly!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did (and did a couple of days later when I made it for lunch again).



30 cherry tomatoes, cut length-wise in half
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp grapeseed or olive oil
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 pinches of crushed red pepper flakes
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 spaghetti servings

Garnish:
freshly ground black pepper
fresh Parmesan cheese** or goat cheese

Yield: 2 servings

Preheat oven to 400F.  Line a baking sheet with tin foil and set aside.

Place cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, oil, rosemary, red pepper flakes and garlic into a bowl and toss until tomatoes are coated with oil.

Pour tomato mixture onto the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until tomatoes have wrinkled a bit.  They should look like these little beauties ...



Meanwhile, cook spaghetti according to package instructions.  Drain pasta and toss with a bit of oil (to keep the noodles from sticking to each other).  Pour tomato mixture (it's not a saucy mixture) over the pasta (making sure to get all the yummy liquid from the tomatoes and balsamic) and toss to coat. 

Top with freshly ground black pepper and fresh Parmesan cheese (or small dollops of goat cheese).  Serve immediately.

Note: This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled if need be.

** I've never been a fan of the Parmesan in a can.  Grating real, fresh Parmesan makes a world of difference with any recipe.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Drop Shot


Author: Harlan Coben
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 310
Series: #2 in the Myron Bolitar series
Source: Public Library
Publisher: Delacorte Press
First Published: 1996
First Line: "Cesar Romero," Myron said."

Book Description from GoodReadsValerie Simpson is a young female tennis star with a troubled past whose now on the verge of a comeback and wants Myron as her agent. Myron, who's also got the hottest young male tennis star, Duane Richwood, primed to take his first grand slam tournament, couldn't be happier. That is, until Valerie is murdered in broad daylight at the U.S. Open and Myron's number one client becomes the number one suspect.

Clearing Duane's name should be easy enough. Duane was playing in a match at the time of Valerie's death. But why is his phone number in Valerie's black book when he claims only to have known her in passing? Why was she calling him from a phone booth on the street? The police stop caring once they pin the murder on a man known for having stalked Valerie and seen talking to her moments before the murder. But Myron isn't satisfied. It seems too clean for him.

Myron pries a bit and finds himself prying open the past where six years before, Valerie's fiancee, the son of a senator, was brutally murdered by a juvenile delinquent and a straight-A student was subsequently gunned down on the street in retaliation, his death squandered in bureaucratic files. And everyone from the Senator to the mob want Myron to stop digging.

The truth beneath the truth is not only dangerous, it's deadly. And Myron may be the next victim.

In novels that crackle with wit and suspense, Edgar Award winner Harlan Coben has created one of the most fascinating and complex heroes in suspense fiction--Myron Bolitar--a hotheaded, tenderhearted sports agent who grows more and more engaging and unpredictable with each page-turning appearance.

My Review:  By my quick calculation this is the sixth Harlan Coben book that I've read over the years.  His Myron Bolitar series is by far my favourite from this highly touted author of suspense and what makes this series stand out are the characters, specifically Myron and his cohort, Win and Esperanza, his unique office manager.

Myron is a former professional basketball player whose career was cut short by an injury.  He now runs his own agency representing sports stars and seems to have a penchant for solving crimes too.  If you are not a self-proclaimed sports aficionado (like myself) don't fear, the sports settings and jargon aren't overused.

Admittedly I've read a few books in this series out of order (which I typically don't do) and the one thing that I've noticed is that in Drop Shot Win isn't quite as funny or as dangerous as he is portrayed in future books nor is Esperanza used as much as I would have hoped.  It's these relationships that make this series for me.  The connection between Win and Myron is very unique.  I love the psychopathic personality of Win juxtaposed against 'Moral Myron' who can't bring himself to do the things that he uses Win for.  It's a good (if sometimes creepy) mix that I haven't seen in suspense reads before. 

So far I've read Deal Breaker as well as Promise Me from this series and Promise Me has been my favourite.  By the eighth book (or possibly sooner since I haven't read books 2-7) Coben has his characters more fleshed out and the sardonic humour is at an all-time high which I really enjoyed.  So at least I know that there is character development in the future of the series.

Drop Shot was a solid, slightly predictable, mystery with a decent twist at the end but while this was a quick read I can't help but feel that this wasn't my favourite Coben book in this series

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Eleanor and Park


Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Young Adult, Modern Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Source: Public Library
Pages: 328
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: February 2013
First Line: "XTC was no good for drowning out the morons at the back of the bus."

Book Description from GoodReadsTwo misfits. One extraordinary love.

Eleanor
... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.

Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.


My Review: Every so often I enjoy picking up a teen read so when I heard glowing reviews of Eleanor and Park (even from a library co-worker) I was thinking that I was going to get something along the lines of "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green (ie. a touching teen read that requires you to keep Kleenex at the ready).

While this book does focus on first romance it didn't have the emotion I expected nor did I have the connection to the characters that I was hoping to have.  The book follows the day-to-day lives of Eleanor and Park and it pieces together their little moments together as their relationship blossoms.  But I needed a bit more than sharing cassette tapes and rides on the bus to get invested in their lives and I needed the evolution of their relationship to be believable.  And it just wasn't.  Their relationship went from him swearing at her on the bus to them suddenly sharing music and holding hands.  This quickly morphed into them hating being apart on weekends and feeling like they can't breathe when they're apart.  I prefer to see their relationship evolve and these were just too many leaps to be believable. 

I also had a hard time picturing these two together.  Park is a nice guy and I liked being able to see his family life but I can't see what Eleanor brings to the table in their relationship other than a negative attitude.  I get that she has a lot of reasons to be negative but even if the author had given me one little glimmer of what Park saw in Eleanor I think it would have helped me better understand their attraction.

The pace was rather slow and meandering throughout the book as it focuses on the small moments Eleanor and Park share.  There was no big 'wow' moment between them and yet the author still managed to keep me interested (no easy feat).  Unfortunately towards the end, just as the pace and my interest picks up, the story abruptly ends - leaving me feeling like the final chapter was missing.  Literary skid marks.  

I.  Hate.  That.   

This was a hard book to review because while it definitely had things that I didn't like there were some moments that I really loved.  The biggest thing that I liked about this book was how the author brought some rather heavy issues into the forefront.  From bullying, self identity, abusive home lives and poverty there was a lot going on in this book.  I found Eleanor's family situation heartbreaking since she's been dealt a rather crappy lot in life.  While I was hoping to see more character development with Eleanor, at the same time I can see how her home life could contribute to her consistently negative attitude as well as her deep need to feel connected to someone who brings even the smallest iota of positivity into her rather bleak life.

Overall, this book about a couple of misfits held my interest even if it was a bit underwhelming.  While I applaud the author for bringing serious teen topics to the forefront, Eleanor and Park's relationship felt very disjointed and the disappointing ending negatively influenced my enjoyment of the book.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Related Posts with Thumbnails